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Watching the Sky Go Dark in Thurmont

Hillary Rothrock

(8/3) Itís like something out of a Twilight Zone episode. I can hear Rod Serling saying "Sometime in the middle of a perfectly normal summer dayÖ the sun slowly started to go out." While we wonít exactly be entering the Twilight Zone, it is rare for those of us in the Northeastern United States to be able to witness a practically total solar eclipse from the comfort of our own backyards. Solar eclipses arenít the rare occurrence we think they are; they happen about once every year, but rarely are they total. Which means total solar eclipses that are visible from the U.S. are very rare indeed. The hardest part of catching one is being in the right place at the right time and weíre in for a real treat to close out this summer.

On August 21st, those of us in the Emmitsburg/Thurmont area will be lucky enough to be in the vicinity of a total solar eclipse. While locally we wonít be able to see the totality of the event, we will be able to see enough to make it a special event of a lifetime. This solar eclipse will leave only a slight crescent, roughly 16%, of the sun visible at its maximum coverage and take about 3 hours from beginning to end. This provides locals plenty of time to go outside, pending no cloud coverage, to witness it.

The eclipse will begin in our area at 1:17 pm and finish at 4:00 pm. It will take 2 hours and 43 minutes for the moon to traverse the area between us and the sun. It's not something you see everyday, or even every decade! The last time a solar eclipse of about this magnitude was visible in Thurmont was on Christmas Day in 2000 and before that on May 10, 1994.

Watching a solar eclipse is a lot of fun but it can be very dangerous. The following are ways you can fully enjoy it without getting hurt. Be sure to not only be prepared yourself but also for children in your care as well! What a blessing to be able to witness such a special celestial event.

1. Wear appropriate eye protection. Regular sunglasses wonít be able to protect your eyes from the harmful UV rays and squinting will do nothing. You can find the CE/ISO certified solar eclipse viewing glasses you need at local establishment J. Rothrock Outfitters at 3 East Main Street in Thurmont, Maryland.

2. If you want to take photos or video with a smartphone, be sure to wear your certified safety viewing glasses so that you donít accidentally expose your eyes to the dangerous rays. Setting up a camera ahead of time to capture the event is a great idea but be sure to use a solar lens or special filter. Donít be surprised if the exposure doesnít work well, unless you do professional photography, itís going to be extremely difficult to get a good photo or video of it.

3. Do NOT look directly at the eclipse through any camera, telescope, binoculars or any other viewing device, even with the safety glasses. Some lenses can multiply the damaging rays and damage the safety glasses and then your eyes. You can seriously damage your retina, causing temporary or permanent blindness if you donít take safety seriously. Please donít allow children to look directly at the sun at any time.

4. You can create a pinhole scope which uses shadows to watch the sun disappear, allowing you to watch without looking up directly at the sun. Directions for various handmade indirect viewing mechanisms can be found at your local library.

5. Above all, donít miss it! Be sure to set an alarm for 2:41 pm on Monday August 21st. This is when the eclipse will be at itís maximum coverage.

Some locals are even traveling to Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina where the total eclipse can be viewed. They want to catch the blackout of the sun and witness the corona for approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds. The sky should be as dark as a full moon where you can see the total eclipse. For many this is a once in a lifetime chance. However, if youíre unable to travel, here are a few prime viewing locations in the Emmitsburg/Thurmont area.

ē Emmitsburg Community Park: 328 Mountaineers Way, Emmitsburg

ē Eyler Park: Eyler Road, Thurmont

ē East End Park: Westview Drive, Thurmont

Best locations are places you would go to watch the sunset, those with unobstructed views of the sky, particularly the western horizon. Donít forget to leave your viewing spot better than you found it, removing all trash and leaving no damage. Prefer to watch from your own backyard? Go outside today and see if you have a good view of the sun between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. Please do not park along roads and highways. Find a safe and comfortable place to view and be aware of passing vehicles and other observers.

The next eclipses to look forward in our area are a partial lunar eclipse January 31st, 2018 and a total lunar eclipse January 20th, 2019. The next time weíre expected to have a total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. isnít until April 8, 2024!

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